The global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been devastating on multiple fronts. The consequences we have experienced in our families and communities deserve a great deal of reverence and solemnity. And yet, innovation and growth can come from challenging times. That has indeed been the case in healthcare roles and delivery, including that of the pharmacy workforce. While pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have always played an essential role in managing patient care, COVID-19 has elevated and expanded their contributions.
The pharmacy workforce is the ultimate guardian of the medication supply chain. Their responsibilities range from purchasing, preparing, dispensing, administrating and monitoring medications to bringing clinical expertise to interprofessional care teams by ensuring the safe and effective use of medications. The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges and opportunities for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians' roles and responsibilities within health systems across the country. As they rise to the occasion by improving the quality of patient care and stepping into more significant roles and responsibilities, here are five effects of COVID-19:
Shifts in Responsibilities
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many shifts in pharmacists' roles and responsibilities, which has allowed pharmacists to be highly involved in the decision-making process related to supportive care and therapeutic options. Pharmacists have been on the front line of emerging therapies and optimizing care despite early challenges with constrained medication supply for patients requiring critical care. For example, pharmacists have been integral in creating medication use protocols to ensure the rational allocation of the medications and appropriate drug monitoring. Additionally, pharmacists involved in COVID-19 response teams help manage infection control and COVID-19 triage and testing.
Increased Burnout and Challenges to Clinicians' Well-Being
Before COVID-19, several studies demonstrated that nearly half of all healthcare workers experienced burnout, stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and even thoughts of suicide. In the pharmacy profession, one survey published by Durham et al. revealed that 53% of health-system pharmacists experienced at least one of the three burnout domains, as defined by the Maslach Burnout Inventory. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these issues because of greater workplace hardships and ethical dilemmas, recently referred to as collective trauma experienced by healthcare due to pressures at home and in the workplace. In particular, the pharmacy workforce is dealing with threats of coronavirus exposure, increased work demand, risk of furlough, changes to their position and work environment and more.
To combat these issues, organizations like the National Academy of Medicine and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) are providing resources online that support clinicians' health and well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Optimizing vaccine supply and administration is one emerging area for pharmacists to improve public health and patient access during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pharmacists have always played a part in vaccinating adults and children, depending on state authorizations, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently authorized pharmacists and pharmacy interns to vaccinate children three years and older for the duration of this public health emergency. The HHS authorization will be essential in ensuring that all children and adults receive their maintenance and seasonal vaccinations, like influenza vaccination. In addition, HHS also authorized pharmacists to administer the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine. The profession is working tirelessly to plan for all aspects of the COVID-19 vaccine, from storage and handling to patient administration and monitoring.
To support their efforts, ASHP recently issued 10 Principles for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution, Allocation, and Mass Immunization and a COVID-19 Vaccine Planning Tool for Pharmacists and Pharmacies to guide vaccine development, distribution, allocation and oversight for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
More Access to Pharmacists Via Telehealth
Changes to state and federal laws and regulations enacted since the start of the pandemic have allowed pharmacists and other providers to embrace new tools to provide consistent patient care. The adoption of telehealth is allowing pharmacists to extend their reach to patients for the provision of medication management and complex patient care. This is especially helpful for patients who need extra and regular support but cannot be seen in-person.
ASHP has launched a telehealth resource center to provide pharmacists with resources about telehealth and how to utilize it best to improve patient care.
Acceleration of Health IT
Pre-pandemic, pharmacists and specialty pharmacists were regularly hampered by faxes, phone calls and other administrative burdens that were getting in the way of patient care. Advancements toward streamlined workflows and interoperability have always been important, but the pandemic further underscored the need for efficiency and collaboration.
Despite all the challenges of COVID-19, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have been given the opportunity to help overcome threats to patient health, optimize patient care and advance pharmacy practice. ASHP, which represents over 55,000 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and student pharmacists in hospitals and health systems, has been trying to keep pace with our members' dedication by developing resources to minimize the challenges and maximize the opportunities. Here at ASHP, we are proud of how the pharmacy workforce is rising to the call and appreciate that the rest of the health care industry recognizes our critical role in this moment. As we continue to fight against the global pandemic, we are committed to documenting member experiences on the front lines and providing critical COVID-19 resources.
Kaitlyn Grieves is a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. Kaitlyn is currently on an advanced pharmacy practice experience at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Anna Legreid Dopp, Pharm.D., is Senior Director, Clinical Guidelines and Quality Improvement at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Bethesda, MD.
How can the Surescripts network help?
Pharmacies are implementing a variety of new health IT tools that are enabling patient-facing care.
Specifically, pharmacies are increasingly getting access to real-time benefit tools that help them access prescription costs, coverage details and therapeutic alternatives, so patients remain medically adherent.
Pharmacists are also mitigating drug shortages by using tools like Surescripts RxChange to let a prescriber know that medication is out of stock.
Finally, specialty pharmacists are using new technology to help streamline processes, reduce administrative hurdles and ensure critical care treatments remain uninterrupted during COVID-19.
Visit our COVID-19 resource page to learn more about how Surescripts is supporting pharmacies and others respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.